“Holy Fuck,” Paragon says, when I answer the phone.
“Uh, hello to you too, Paragon,” I say.
“Put me up on the computer,” Paragon says.
I stare daggers at the phone, while he still can’t see me, but I head over to the computer and pull the call up there, anyway.
Paragon just stares at me for a while.
“Okay, did this have a point, or…?” I shake my head at him.
“I wanted to make sure you were okay,” Paragon says. With a glare. And he stares at me some more. Tilting his head a little.
“Are you seeing anything besides me being alive and only mildly injured,” I ask him, “because I think that’s enough staring for now.”
“Yes,” Paragon says.
“You say that,” I tell him, “but you’re still staring.”
Paragon’s gaze drifts back to mine. “No, I mean, yes, I’m seeing something besides your aliveness and your relative good health.”
“You are,” I say.
Paragon nods. “I have this giant screen, right, I can see your heart rate and, like, your musculature, and did you know there’s a hairline fracture in your jaw?”
“I did,” I tell him, “it’s healed more on the inside than it looks like from your view, probably.”
Paragon grimaces slightly. “Yeah, other people’s powers kind of fuck with what I’m looking at here, I mean, I can’t even get a look at – has someone been rummaging around in your brain?”
“Manipulative Bitch,” I say.
Paragon looks affronted for a second, then says, “well, now I can’t make sure Klepto didn’t do anything, so thank her for me, will you?”
I really won’t.
“And stand back a little,” he adds.
“No lasting damage, anyway,” Paragon relents, “no spots where nasty little extranormal surprises are waiting for you.”
“I really wish you wouldn’t look through my brain like that,” I tell him.
Paragon huffs. “It’s not like I can see what you’re thinking. It’s practically the same scan they gave you when they checked you over, only, you know, better.”
“Sure,” I agree, “better.”
“I didn’t look over your medical file or anything,” Paragon reassures me, and now I’m kind of worried that he did, “but I have this. You know. Sentient computer robot entity.”
“Sentient computer robot entity,” I repeat. I feel like this conversation is even less normal than the other conversations I’ve had with this dude.
“She’s calls herself SAL,” Paragon says. “I don’t really know how to describe her.”
“Okay,” I say, “moving on.”
“Moving on,” Paragon agrees, “what updates have you added to your home security?”
Oh my fucking god, people, what the hell. “Are you going to tell me to get a dog?”
“A dog?” Paragon looks confused. “No, I was going to tell you to add some sort of field neutralizers into the walls or something.”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” I tell him, “I already have those.”
“Huh,” Paragon says. “You know they have to be always on, or it’s potentially illegal? Do you live near anyone with regenerative powers?”
“They turn on automatically,” I assure him, “they turn on automatically if you breach any of the entrances, and yes, Paragon, I did, in fact, know that.”
“I’m just saying,” Paragon huffs. “What’s the response time on your alarm system?”
“Twenty-seven seconds,” I tell him.
His eyes go wide.
“Fast enough?” I ask.
“That’s,” Paragon says, “um.”
“Yes,” I agree, “I pay a premium for my health and safety. There’s a virtual tour of my apartment with coordinates and everything.”
“Okay,” Paragon says. “I was just going to offer to get you an emergency injector or something because we have, like, so many extras.”
“I would rather not risk the lawsuit on that one,” I tell him.
“Or the charges,” Paragon says, rolling his eyes, “I heard he has good lawyers.”
“I have not heard that,” I tell him.
“I don’t know if it’s true,” Paragon backtracks. “I just heard they had a couple of warrants for a while, and then, poof, gone.”
“Okay,” I say. “I mean there are a lot of things in his file that could account for that.”
“Oh, you mean, where he has regular access to memetic powers?” Paragon says, “or the thing where he’s probably got a guy on the inside or an astral projector or who knows what?”
I stare at him for a minute.
“Look, this guy killed his lieutenants,” Paragon tells me, “I would watch out.”
“He what?” I ask.
“The latest one’s been missing for a while now,” Paragon says, “and I would place good money on the idea that it’s because he wasn’t up to Klepto’s standards.”
“Okay,” I say.
“Klepto is bad news, Teke,” Paragon says. “He is bad news.”
I nod solemnly at him.
“Hey, do we still have any frosted flakes,” Darren asks, walking up behind me, “oh, hey, Paragon. How’s the boring part of the country?”
“Pretty steady on the dastardly fiend count,” Paragon says. “And we’ve only got the one dastardly mastermind, who’s laying low until the trial.”
“So, keeping busy?” Darren asks.
Paragon shrugs. “I have a lot of homework, so it works out okay.”
Darren offers him a thumbs up and turns back to me.
“They’re in the container with the orange lid,” I tell him. “Top shelf.”
Darren waves bye to Paragon, who waves back.
“Was it a setup?” Paragon asks.
I stare at him. “The cereal?”
Paragon rolls his eyes. “You. Line of fire. Kids involved, tragic sacrifice, whatever.”
“He ran away,” I tell Paragon, who frowns.
“Klepto ran away,” he repeats.
“He doesn’t run away,” Paragon says, “he doesn’t run away unless you play mind games with him, or defeat him in some sort of noble contest of skill. Did you play mind games with him?”
I laugh. “What, I couldn’t beat him at chess or something?”
“Well, not at chess, no,” Paragon says, “he’s ranked really high, there’s whole conspiracy websites about it, did you challenge him to single combat or something?”
“Does that work?” I ask.
Paragon shrugs. “I don’t know, he’s got this whole honor-among-thieves chivalry and valor thing going on, and he will hella leave after first blood if you challenge him to it.”
“That’s good to know,” I say.
“But also he’ll probably win, though,” Paragon says. “He usually wins.”
“Also good to know,” I say.
“If you’re going to challenge him,” Paragon says, “challenge him to that shooting arrows through hoops thing; he has really bad aim.”